124.61/169: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union ( Steinhardt ) to the Secretary of State

889. As I have previously informed the Department I have personally leased a small house with a few acres of land about 15 miles from Moscow which could serve as the best available place of refuge [Page 880] for the American staff of the Embassy, and as a place of relative security for its more valuable records in the event of military operations involving the city of Moscow. Living accommodations will not be available for more than a very few individuals until the tents requested in my telegram No. 549, March 20, 8 p.m., have arrived here. However, transportation, commissary and medical arrangements are being made adequate for a limited period of time.

A tentative evacuation plan which I have prepared contemplates that only a few of the 30 odd volumes of codes and ciphers possessed by this Mission would be removed, and that the remaining volumes and the special ciphering equipment would, if possible, be dispatched by safe means to some other Mission or, if time or conditions in the latter permit, be destroyed. The plan contemplates the same procedure with respect to the very large number of volumes of the true readings of telegrams sent and received. The same general procedure is also contemplated with respect to the Embassy’s files which in themselves have assumed large proportions since this Mission was established, and which have been further increased by the addition of a substantial portion of the records of our three former Baltic Missions.86

There is also a great deal of Government property, both in the Chancery and in the residence, which it would be impossible to remove. The plan contemplates that after the codes, confidential records, seals, passports, currency and other items of major importance have been removed or destroyed, the Mokhovaya87 and Spaso88 buildings will be locked as securely as possible and placed in charge of Soviet employees who would remain as custodians as long as circumstances might permit. At the same time the Soviet authorities would be informed of the vacating of these buildings and requested to place them under police and fire protection. The reason for vacating the Mokhovaya building immediately on the outbreak of hostilities is that, being of flimsy construction and inflammable and generally regarded as a firetrap even under normal conditions by reason of its immediate proximity to the Kremlin, it would probably be demolished with great loss of life at the very outset of any bombing attack.

Should conditions arise necessitating the evacuation of the Mokhovaya building, I think it would no longer be either necessary or desirable to maintain the full American staff which is at present employed here. I recommend, therefore, if adequate advance warning [Page 881] of an impending emergency permits, that I be authorized to evacuate the women and children and perhaps as many as 50% of the staff to Stockholm, Vladivostok or Tehran—dependent upon the transportation available.

The foregoing is of course merely a rough outline of the evacuation plan for this Mission. I submit it with the request that, after its examination, the Department give me the benefit of its experience in the form of such specific suggestions or instructions as it may deem appropriate, and in particular that I be advised as to the limits of my authority in the event of an emergency, in so far as concerns the destruction of codes and other records, and the sending out of the Soviet Union of members of the American personnel of this Mission without prior consultation with the Department.

I trust that the Department will not regard this telegram as implying that I necessarily regard a German attack on the Soviet Union and the bombing of Moscow as imminent. I merely feel that in view of the current trend of events I would be derelict in my duty to the Department and to the many members of my staff if I did not take the necessary steps to anticipate such a contingency. As experience has now taught that the institution of hostilities by either Germany or the Soviet Union generally commences with a violent bombardment of the capital of the country attacked, I must assume that Moscow would be subjected to bombardment as a sign of the outbreak of hostilities and that I would not have the time to consult the Department or to make the necessary preparations for evacuation.

  1. The Baltic States were forcibly occupied by, and incorporated into, the Soviet Union, and United States diplomatic missions were closed during 1940; see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 357 ff.
  2. The combined American Chancery and residence building, Mokhovaya ulitsa (street) 13/15, in Moscow.
  3. Spaso House, the American Embassy and residence of the Ambassador, Spaso-Peskovskaya Ploshchad 10, Moscow.